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´╗┐Can US trust North Korean leader to act rationally

But just how confident can Pentagon officials be about whether Mr. Kim is a rational actor?

Could he, in fact, be young, reckless, without great political savvy and in grave danger of making a move that could set off a chain of events including an inadvertent war with dire consequences?

Weve seen some historical trajectory here on where North Korea occasionally will go to try to get the attention of the United States, to try to maneuver us into some position favorably to them, whether its more assistance or bilateral engagement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during a press conference last week.

But the fact is that this is the wrong way to go. The action that hes taken and the actions theyve taken and the words hes used, it is not going to project a more responsible, accountable relationship.

That seems evident. But how clear is it that Kim knows what hes doing, anyway? And is he, in fact, the one in charge? Or could he be vying for power with, say, North Korean military leaders?

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On this question, Mr. Hagel appeared, publicly at least, to have little interest in a North Korean version of Kremlinology. Well, hes the leader, he said. I mean, hes the leader of North Korea.

Defense analysts say that there are indeed some hints that Kim may be losing his hold on the military.

There have been defections of small units of North Korean soldiers to China soldiers who were subsequently turned around and sent back to North Korea, says retired Brig. Gen. Russell Howard, former commander of the 1st Special Forces Group, which has an Asia focus.

This may seem like a positive development, but it is a problem because it means that Kim may feel the need to reassert his control over the military, by beating the war drum and trying to get his troops to rally around it. The more he needs their support, the harder he might beat the drum.